Inner natural guidance

Photo by Pratham Books

I have been reading Tal Ben-Shahar’s fascinating book The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life and came across a reference to the Montessori Method of Education. As I was reading about it, I thought that it actually describes a big part of my approach to the practice of management. And as I wrote in the past, I believe that education and management are closely related (see for example here). I took a paragraph from Wikipedia describing the method and added the words manager and employee where teacher and child were originally written and this is what you get:

Applying this method involves the [teacher] manager in viewing the [child] employee as having an inner natural guidance for his or her own perfect self-directed development. The role of the [teacher] manager (sometimes called director, directress, or guide) is therefore to watch over the environment to remove any obstacles that would interfere with this natural development. The [teacher] manager‘s role of observation sometimes includes experimental interactions with [children] employees, commonly referred to as “lessons,” to resolve misbehavior or to show how to use the various [self-teaching] managerial materials that are provided in the environment for the [children] employee‘s free use.

Take away hurdles. No more rules but environments that support the development of practical wisdom. Experimentation and reflection.

I could not describe it better myself.



Are you more important than others?

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Today I read an interview (link in Hebrew) with Prof. Beni Lauterbach – Head of Business Administration School at Bar-Ilan University. In it, Lauterbach claims that business administration departments in universities are much more important than the physics, chemistry and engineering departments. Why? Because a good manager can add more value than an engineer. Lauterbach claims that as a former engineer he knows that for a fact.

I almost fell of my chair when I read this. I am, as readers of the blog know well, a big supportive of the idea that great managers are important value creators. More than that, I actually believe that in the coming years, the importance of managers as facilitators of innovation through diversity will increase. However, Lauterbach approach is in my eyes, a manifestation of everything that is wrong with management today.

The idea that there is one person or occupation that is more important than others is the problem of many of the current management practices. Mostly, the work of a manager is to create synergy. In this respect, synergy is about creating greater value from a group of people than they could produce alone. And in this process, every person is important because without each and every one, synergy is not possible. Lauterbach approach is rotted in the myth of leadership, where we look to one leader to solve all of our problems and believe that salvation will come out of one individual. Maybe this worked in the past. It will not work in the future. The future is about diversity, synergy and collaboration. In this kind of environment, nobody is more important. Not that everybody is equal. Everybody is unique and contributes differently and an excelling organization enables and leverages that uniqueness.

Let’s stop fighting over who is more important and start collaborating to create a better future.

And by the way, all of the above is said without regard to the question whether business administration departments actually produce managers (not to mention, good ones). I am not quite sure.



What can we learn from “Pay for grades”

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In addition to my fascination with management of people I am almost as equally fascinated by education. I find many similarities between the subjects (as I mentioned in the past – see here and here) as both subjects remain a mystery although they have been practiced in a professional rigorous way for more than a century. That is why I particularly enjoyed reading the article from Time Magazine titled: Pay for Grades: Should Kids Be Bribed to Do Well in School?.

While the article raises a controversial issue about paying kids to make them learn which I must admit I am not too happy about, I admire the fact that the researchers actually went out and tried this approach in real life setting. As the article suggests, you learn some amazing things when you do that, some of them unexpected. The fact that we have moral reservation about issues should not stop us from exploring them, when we are already facing a system that is failing (for a different perspective on the last issue see Dan Ariely’s take).

However, in this blog, I want to point out two interesting quotes from the article that I think have just as much relevance to the management world as to the education world. Here is the first one:

We tend to assume that kids (and adults) know how to achieve success. If they don’t get there, it’s for lack of effort — or talent. Sometimes that’s true. But a lot of the time, people are just flying blind. John List, an economist at the University of Chicago, has noticed the disconnect in his own education experiments. He explains the problem to me this way: “I could ask you to solve a third-order linear partial differential equation,” he says. “A what?” I ask. “A third-order linear partial differential equation,” he says. “I could offer you a million dollars to solve it. And you can’t do it.” (He’s right. I can’t.) For some kids, doing better on a geometry test is like solving a third-order linear partial differential equation, no matter the incentive.

We have a tendency to focus on results and outcomes. And that is usually a good thing. Just by measuring outcomes, we can sometimes create a sense of positive competition that drives these results. Sometimes it is simple – because people know what to do, they just need a little nudge of fun to drive them to excel. However, when things go wrong and we don’t see the desired outcomes we tend to be fixed on the outcomes. And then we assume things.

“These workers are not motivated. They are not working hard. They are slackers. After all I have done for them and all I offer them; they still don’t give me the results I want.”

All that is well and good, but it is not very helpful. Assumptions don’t take us anywhere and in case of relationships, they are wrong most of the time. As the article points out you can offer these kids a lot of money, but you probably won’t see results. This is what Paul Herbert calls Energized Incompetence:

Take five people who never have played basketball, put them on the court and tell them if they win the game they receive $1 million dollars each. I’m sure you’ll get a lot of activity. Heck, it would be real fun to just watch the mayhem. But the chances of success are slim and none … Motivation isn’t just creating energy – it’s creating directed energy.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, the writers claim that one of the most effective ways to create change is to explain what are the critical steps needed in order to create that change. It is not enough to say what the change is but we need to chip out the behavioral steps that will lead to the new results. Because sometimes people can’t find the way. And this connects directly to the second quote from the article:

Kids may respond better to rewards for specific actions because there is less risk of failure. They can control their attendance; they cannot necessarily control their test scores. The key, then, may be to teach kids to control more overall — to encourage them to act as if they can indeed control everything, and reward that effort above and beyond the actual outcome.

The funny thing is, that when you give people access to steps that they were missing, they find new exciting ways to accomplish the goal in a better way than you could have imagined. It is a delicate balance between allowing autonomy and offering support.

What are you asking you employees to do? Are these things under their control? Are your rewards directed to results or to the right behaviors?


Who is responsible for a manager’s success?

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Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan – John F. Kennedy

Yesterday I wrote about heuristics and how one heuristic specifically, the illusion of control, is dangerous for managers and mangers need to overcome it if they want to really reach amazing results. Today I want to talk about another heuristic, which is part of the self-serving bias:

A self-serving bias occurs when people attribute their successes to internal or personal factors but attribute their failures to situational factors beyond their control. The self-serving bias can be seen in the common human tendency to take credit for success but to deny responsibility for failure

You all know it and have experienced from both ends of the spectrum. When we succeed, it is due to our own talents and efforts. But when we fail, that is when the excuses come knocking. And it is always someone else’s fault.

Now, I am not trying to change the behavior of the entire human race, even though a little more accountability would not hurt to improve our society. I just want to point out that in the case of managers that deal with people, their success lies in exactly the opposite situation. A great manager is one that helps his people succeed. By definition, a great manager is only a great manager because of someone else. As I wrote before:

A manager is not a supervisor that just needs to make sure the work is done. A manager is a good manager when he makes people think; when he helps employees improve their abilities and capitalize on their strengths; when he supports their own self development, self-efficacy and sense of achievement; and when he helps them prepare for their next role

And this is a very hard concept to come to grasps with. In most of our education and through most of our lives we are programmed to think that our success is dependent only on our actions. If we study hard enough, if we work hard enough, if we do the right things we will succeed. The only one that is responsible for our success is us. That is what we are told from the minute we are children. And most of the time there is nothing wrong with that. It might even be a good thing. But then we become managers.

And what do we do?

We create mechanisms of control that will make sure that everything is done our way. We try to make sure everything is controllable, so it will depend on us.

But it doesn’t. Not anymore.

A manager needs to adopt a frame of mind that is contrary to this human nature. A frame of mind that says: my success is the result of the work of others, work that is not under my control and that actually thrives when I am not in control. Hey, who said being a manager is an easy job?

Listen to Tom Peters and take the hurdles out of employees’ way and let them make you successful.


What makes a great manager (or teacher)?

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A few days ago I read an amazing article titled “What makes a great teacher?”. This is how the article is described in the header:

For years, the secrets to great teaching have seemed more like alchemy than science, a mix of motivational mumbo jumbo and misty-eyed tales of inspiration and dedication. But for more than a decade, one organization has been tracking hundreds of thousands of kids, and looking at why some teachers can move them three grade levels ahead in a year and others can’t.

I was reading through how that organization, Teach for America, dispelled many of the myths (or conventional wisdoms) about what constitutes a great teacher by observing teachers and measuring the effects they have on kids and I could not shake the feeling that everything that was written in the article about teachers could be equally applied to managers. There are so many examples in the article to what I just wrote about this week, managerial blindness:

The results are specific and surprising. Things that you might think would help a new teacher achieve success in a poor school—like prior experience working in a low-income neighborhood—don’t seem to matter. Other things that may sound trifling—like a teacher’s extracurricular accomplishments in college—tend to predict greatness.

Based on her own experience teaching in the Mississippi Delta, Ayotte-Hoeltzel was convinced, for example, that teachers with earlier experience working in poor neighborhoods were more effective. Wrong. An analysis of the data found no correlation.

The feeling that the article described what I constantly try to articulate about mangers made me try to “translate” some of the paragraphs to the world of managers. Following are some quotes from the article, where I changed the words “teacher” and “student” to “manager” and “employee” and made other similar corrections. I think these paragraphs speak for themselves.

Management is not something mystical:

… But the [company], statistically speaking, does not matter as much as which [manager] stands in front of their [employees]. [Manager] quality tends to vary more within [companies]—even supposedly good [companies]—than among [companies].

But we have never identified excellent [managers] in any reliable, objective way. Instead, we tend to ascribe their gifts to some mystical quality that we can recognize and revere—but not replicate. The great [manager] serves as a hero but never, ironically, as a lesson.

There is a great difference between doing a good job and a GREAT job:

… had begun to notice something puzzling when she visited [workplaces]: [managers] were doing good work. But a small number were getting phenomenal results—and it was not clear why.

There is no feedback (or dismissal) for bad people management skills:

Once [managers] have been in the [workplace] for a year or two, who is very good—and very bad—becomes much clearer. But [managers]are almost never dismissed. [Higher management] almost never gives [managers] poor performance evaluations—even when they know the [managers] are failing.

A very strong story, both for the world of education and the world of management. It is worth a read. Would love to hear what you think the similarities and differences are.


Did he notice me? On perceptions, noticing, management and education


Photo by takomabibelot

I am constantly amazed how my interest subjects are overlapping. I wrote in this blog a few times about how I find management lessons in reading epic fantasy. Another subject that correlates with my interest in managing people is the subject of education. Lately, I started following an interesting blog dealing with education by Angela Maiers. Yesterday she wrote a post called: “Two powerful words: I notice” about the importance of noticing students in the classroom. In the post she referred to a quote from the movie Shall We Dance uttered by Susan Sarandon character, Beverly Clark:

We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.

And I think this approach is not only important in marriage or as a teacher in the classroom but also as a manager of people. I am a passionate person and usually I do my job as best as I can. And I know from my own experience that there is a high correlation between whether I felt noticed and my motivation. Actually, over the years I discovered how much I yearn for recognition and how frustrated I feel when I am not noticed. In my e-book, I described this story:

After 8 months of internship, my boss took me to lunch, and offered me to stay at that firm as a full time lawyer once I pass the bar exam. I told him that what troubles me is that I did not get any feedback. I only learned by trial and error and a little by watching what others do, and not by direct feedback. I said I would like that to change if I was to stay. He was genuinely surprised. He said to me: “Well, if I were not happy with you, you would have already known”. When I think about it, I still can’t quite grasp that reaction. But it really stands for how people usually feel. If there is nothing wrong, there is no need to say anything. Frightening!

While I know it is dangerous to extrapolate from my own experience to a general rule, I found that while not everybody feels the same, many people do. When I teach motivation in the Israeli Air-Force I talk about the expectancy theory of motivation by Victor Vroom.  One of the main concepts in this theory is that there needs to be a clear connection between the effort people put in and the optional reward. According to the theory, one question people ask themselves before they act is “will somebody notice what I do?”. The theory is not straightforward but when I talk about this part and ask for an example, almost all the students in the class have one. Too many of us go unnoticed.

Just yesterday I wrote about the unpredictability of rewards and its importance.  In order to be really unpredictable but also create an effective response to our rewards, we need to notice our employees.  And it is not enough to notice, it is also important to let them that you notice. Most business people will tell you that marketing is all about perception. The qualities of your product are not as important as how people perceive you r product. I think we should employ similar thinking to our employees. Noticing our employees is important but making sure that they know we are noticing them is just as important.


Should we balme the teachers?

photo by katiew

The last few months have started a debate about the responsibility of business schools and MBA programs for the GFC. You can see a summary of some of the opinions in the online debateon the Harvard Business Review blog. In the same blog, a few weeks ago, David Champion suggestedto blame lawyers instead of the MBAs for the GFC. As someone who was a lawyer until a few weeks ago and is currently in the middle of an MBA degree, I don’t know if to laugh or to cry. This got me thinking about what I am trying to get out of the MBA. What kind of manager do I want to be in the future?

When you are doing an MBA after you have already done an undergrad in business you don’t really learn new things (unless one of two occurs: (1) you had a bad professor in your undergrad and now you have a great one in your MBA or (2) you take some electives that you did not cover in your undergrad).

Still, the fact that you don’t learn new things officially does not mean that there are no educational gains from doing an MBA. In theory, the level of the class is different and thus, the discussion in class supposedly represents the knowledge and experience of the classmates, which is relatively higher. The problem is that most of the times, this is only true in theory. In order to utilize the knowledge of your fellow classmates, you need a professor that leads the discussion accordingly. Finding such a professor is no easy task.

What I found to be the main educational gain from my limited experience with the MBA so far (a few months now), is that even if you are covering the same formal subject, your own experience allows you to look at the same subjects from a different perspective. Which means?

  • You are able to be much more critical in each course because you are more aware of the limitations the course suggests.
  • You are able to draw on your own experience since the undergrad degree and that influences whatever is taught in class.
  • You are able to draw lines connecting ideas and thoughts across different subjects, thus developing a more integrated thinking about each subject. This is very important due to the fact that the professors themselves tend to see things from their own narrow viewpoint.

All of these are great things and the more you can bring into the process, the more you get out of it. connecting back to my opening thought about the GFC, I think the last point is the most important one. Surprisingly, I thought about it after last week, my accounting professor, Professor Kevin Clarke said in class (the quote is not accurate, as it is from my memory):

“The worst managers I know are managers who mange with the accounting systems instead of using is as a tool. In the past I used to think the soft skills are not that important. Now, after a few years, I know that in order to achieve the business success, you need to know how to get people to do things. And that does not is on the numbers”

I think that realizations like these that take a moderate view and recognize that there are a number of facets to each situation should be the lessons we take from an MBA. As someone who sees himself as a future manager (and maybe a leader) I believe that is the main lesson I should take. Integration and moderation as a management style. Some more of that and less thinking with only one side, could maybe have prevented the GFC. Am I ready to do that? Are you? Do I have the sufficient Knowledge? Do you?

The main lesson in my opinion is this: it does not matter what they teach us. It is what we bring to the table. All the finance, accounting, organizational behaviour, marketing and such courses are only tools. Important tools. Useful tools. But just tools. It is our own thoughts and our own legacy that will use them in the future for good or for bad. If the pupils fail, the easiest thing to do is to blame the teacher. Are they to blame?

“The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind” Khalil Gibran